By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Milwaukee, Wisconsin — The first Republican debate of the 2024 presidential primary in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, was a stage where voices clashed and unique perspectives emerged. South Asian candidates Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy stood out as potent forces. As the only woman on the stage and in the crowded GOP race, Haley sparred energetically with fellow candidates, asserting her vision and challenging conventional party narratives. Meanwhile, Ramaswamy’s presence ignited clashes and brought fresh perspectives to the forefront in the evolving Republican primary race.
Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old millionaire tech entrepreneur and son of Indian immigrants, has no prior political experience. But he gained traction by positioning himself as a Trump-like outsider to the political establishment.
In a fiery exchange with former Vice President Mike Pence, Ramaswamy faced off against accusations of lacking political experience. Pence said, “Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” and called Ramaswamy a “rookie.” Ramaswamy fired back, criticizing “professional politicians” and referring to them as “super PAC puppets,” a veiled jab at the influence of Political Action Committees in political campaigns.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also joined the fray, criticizing Ramaswamy for his stance on climate change. Ramaswamy’s assertion that the “climate change agenda is a hoax” prompted Christie to quip, “I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT standing up here,” drawing laughter from the audience.
Ramaswamy used his time to pledge a commitment to cutting government bureaucracy, vowing to eliminate the “administrative state” and relocate FBI agents to other government departments. In his opening statement, he playfully acknowledged the curiosity surrounding his presence on the debate stage, saying, “Who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name and what the heck is he doing in the middle of this debate stage?”
Divisions over former President Donald Trump’s legal battles and abortion rights took center stage as well. While most candidates signaled their continued support for Trump even in the face of criminal indictments, Ramaswamy went a step further by promising to pardon Trump if elected.
“Let’s just speak the truth. President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century. It’s a fact,” Ramaswamy said.
Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the United Nations and the only woman on the debate stage—showcased her ability to defy expectations and stand her ground on key issues.
Addressing the mounting budget deficit, she declared, “Republicans did this to you too,” urging a stop to reckless spending and borrowing practices. “You have Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, they all voted to raise the debt. Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt.”
Turning the conversation toward Trump, Haley did not shy away from addressing his polarizing impact. Describing Trump as the “most disliked politician in America,” she issued a cautionary note that the Republican Party’s prospects could suffer in the general election due to his association.
Haley challenged Pence on abortion.
“No Republican president can ban abortions any more than a Democrat president can ban all those state laws,” Haley said when Pence boasted of his support for a federal restriction on abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. “Don’t make women feel like they have to decide on this issue when you know we don’t have 60 Senate votes.”
While she voiced opposition to late-term abortion, Haley said people should treat each other with respect over the issue.
“Can’t we all agree that contraception should be available? And can’t we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion?”
Haley also engaged in a spirited exchange with Ramaswamy regarding continued U.S. aid to Ukraine.
He said Washington should not spend resources fighting off an invasion across “somebody else’s border.”
Haley slammed Ramaswamy saying, “You are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country.” Haley also accused him of not standing by U.S. allies like Israel because he said he wanted to ultimately not have to send aid.
“You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows,” Haley told him, standing directly to his left.
Haley’s gender played a pivotal role in her interactions. On issues ranging from energy policy to climate change, Haley invoked the words of Margaret Thatcher: “If you want something done, ask a woman.” She used this platform to assert her identity as a strong female leader, challenging both party norms and gender-inclusive policies in American schools.
The Republican Party will hold its second presidential primary debate on Sept. 27 in Simi Valley, California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.